1. Many no longer doubt the possibility of a world crisis, taking the latter word in its most usual acceptation, and this in itself marks a very noticeable change of outlook: by sheer force of circumstance certain illusions are beginning to vanish, and we cannot but rejoice that this is so, for it is at any rate a favorable symptom and a sign that a readjustment of the contemporary mentality is still possible-a glimmer of light as it were-in the midst of the present chaos.
For example, the belief in a never-ending 'progress', which until recently was held as a sort of inviolable and indisputable dogma, is no longer so widespread; there are those who perceive, though in a vague and confused manner, that the civilization of the West may not always go on developing in the same direction, but may some day reach a point where it will stop, or even be plunged in its entirety into some cataclysm.
(NB: Chapternumbering by the editor.)
2. Such persons may not see dearly where the danger lies-the fantastic or puerile fears they sometimes express being proof enough that their minds still harbor many errors-but it is already something that they realize there is a danger, even if it is felt rather than understood; and it is also something that they can conceive that this civilization, with which the moderns are so infatuated, holds no privileged position in the history of the world, and may easily encounter the same fate as has befallen many others that have already disappeared at more or less remote periods, some of them having left traces so slight as to be hardly noticeable, let alone recognizable.
Consequently, when it is said that the modern world is in the throes of a crisis, this is usually taken to mean that it has reached a critical phase, or that a more or less complete transformation is imminent, and that a change of direction must soon ensue - whether voluntarily or no, whether suddenly or gradually, whether catastrophic or otherwise, remaining to be seen. → 3.
3. This use of the word 'crisis' is perfectly legitimate, and indeed corresponds in part to what we think ourselves; but in part only, for our point of view is a more general one: for us it is the modern age in its entirety that is in a state of crisis, which is precisely why we entitled this book The Crisis of the Modern World.
4. It seems however that the crisis is nearing its solution, and this has the effect of emphasizing still further the abnormality of the state of affairs that has already existed for some centuries, though the consequences were never before so apparent as they are now. This is also the reason for the increasing speed with which events are now unfolding: such a state of affairs may doubtless continue for some time longer, but not indefinitely, and, even without being able to assign a definite time-limit, one has the impression that it cannot last very much longer.
(originally published as ‘La crise du mode moderne’, 1927)